On the first two days of the fourth test at MCG, England came close to salvaging some prestige after the series loss. On the third day, however, the English batting fell like a pack of cards, when they lost their last five batsmen in the second innings to some rejuvenated bowling by Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Johnson. From a seemingly good score of 173/5, with Kevin Pietersen still looking solid, England collapsed to 179 all out. In a space of just 39 deliveries, Australia snatched a decisive advantage from the tourists and needed just 231 runs to make it 4-0 in the series. Before Lyon and Johnson wreaked the havoc, England had a chance to pile up a winning score, whereby they could have pushed Australia on the back-foot. But England failed to put up a fight and a combination of several factors took the match away from their grasp.
Kridangan writer John Welsh posted on these pages on December 18, about an oncoming England whitewash. Welsh narrated that the visitors came down to a series defeat from the prospects of dictating terms to Australia, before the start of the series. It has been a nearly one-sided Ashes contest so far, with England facing a humiliating 5-0 whitewash. Welsh’s words are already proving prophetic with England going down 0-4 with just one game left at the SCG.
The last time, when a touring English side suffered a 5-0 series loss, was in 2006-07. But those days, Australia was on top of world cricket in all formats. Ricky Ponting’s team, apart from Ponting himself, had batsmen like; Michael Hussey, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer and such bowlers as; Glenn Mcgrath, Stuart Clarke and Shane Warne. Though England under Andrew Flintoff was not a weak team either, Australia had more firepower. Such was not the case at the beginning of the current Ashes Series.
As events unfolded on the fourth day, Australians began with 30/0 in the morning with overnight batsmen Rogers, unbeaten at 18, and Warner keeping him company at 12. Rogers had added just one run, when England made a mess of a great chance to put pressure on the hosts. A Stuart Broad delivery was nicked to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who combined with Captain Cook in letting it slip to the fence. Rather than try the catch himself, Bairstow keenly watched a delayed response from his captain, who made hara-kiri with a one-handed attempt in holding the catch. This was the one chance, which proved expensive; as the 36-year old Rogers went on to notch a match-winning hundred. Cook dropped Warner too, but since the batsman departed three runs later, it did not add so much to England’s woes.
When your team leader commits blunders, you can only bow your head and suffer in silence. Such mental condition is not conducive to reviving the performance mid-way. With the steam gone from the English attack, the Australian took charge and made the victory look awfully easy in the end. In a media interview on Saturday, Kevin Pietersen’s had talked about the mental fragility of the England squad, who were dealt a blow, when Graeme Swann announced a mid-series retirement and Matt Prior dropped to make way for Jonny Bairstow.
The loss at MCG is going to put terrific pressure on England, as the challenge at SCG, beginning next Friday, will be an exercise in avoiding a series whitewash rather than playing to their true potential.
The Melbourne crowd had much to celebrate as local hero Chris Rogers scored a brilliant century and played his part in Australia’s 8-wicket win, before tea on Sunday, with more than a day’s play still remaining. When Warner departed at 64, Rogers was joined by Shane Watson. The two of them played cautiously, to begin with, but soon started whiplashing the hapless English bowlers. The second wicket partnership was worth 136 runs when Rogers was the second batsman out at the score reading 200. With 8 wickets still left, the required 31 runs were scored merrily by Watson and Clarke. The Australian captain completed his 8000 runs in test cricket, when he reached 3. The winning runs came from Watson’s bat by a stunning hit to the fence much to the delight of the roaring MCG crowd.
For the third time in the series, Mitchell Johnson was named the man-of-the-match after taking eight wickets in the match. The crowd at MCG provided great support to the Australians. Over the four days that the match lasted, 271,860 fans came to watch the match and on the first day, there was a world-record breaking single-day attendance, with 91,092 coming to see the test match.